The 10 Power Moves Every Publisher Site Should Know To Collect More Emails

12 minute read

Upland Admin

Running a publication is hard…

Building a loyal audience is even harder…

And getting a loyal audience to keep RETURNING to a site is the hardest part — about 70% of users don’t return to a site after abandoning it.

Here’s where collecting emails helps.

As a publisher site, collecting emails should be your priority because if you build an email list, you will build a steady stream of returning visitors. Every time you send a content update email – it will be these readers who will revisit to your site. Their visits will result in more page views and translate to higher ad revenue (and income from other possible cross-selling/upselling).

So to help you build a humongous list, we’ve put together these 10 tested list-building tactics. Try them on your site and put your list-building on autopilot.

1. Offer incentives based on what your visitors are reading

An incentive-based technique – the one where you offer a freebie – works. This is like list-building 101. But targeted incentive-based technique works even better.

Most blogs do reasonably well with a generic site-wide freebie, like, a WordPress blog could do well enough by offering a freebie called “How to speed up a WordPress site.” In this case, the freebie WILL appeal to all the readers because, well… who wouldn’t like a blazing fast site?

However, a publication that covers varied topics won’t see similar results with a generic site-wide freebie. This is because a publication caters to different kinds of readers.

For example, an educational publication might target both – educators/universities and students. Due to the different audience segments, it will only make sense to offer targeted incentives: one for the educator segment and the other for the student segment.

Here’s how we could approach targeted incentives in our example:

To appeal to the student segment, we could create a free report called “The top colleges for graduation,” whereas, for the other (educator) segment, we might want to put together a report called “The state of academics – 2016” (look at the following lightbox).

A lightbox targeting the educator audience segment

You get the idea, right?

Targeted incentives personalize the optin offer and make subscribing a no-brainer.

Game Rant, a happy Digioh user, tried offering content-based incentives and saw their signups shoot to 120 per day.

Before this targeting, Game Rant was only getting 5 emails/day (Game Rant started offering a freebie called “Fallout 4 Survival Guide” to all the visitors who landed on any content about Fallout 4 and stayed on it for at least 30 seconds).

Game Rant offered content-based incentives and boosted their signups from just 30/day to 120 per day.

2. Try multi-step forms

Multi-step forms are optin forms that don’t ask for an email directly. Instead, they aim to engage the visitor.

The most common way that blogs use multi-step forms is by asking their readers to participate in quizzes or polls. Then, after the visitors give in to the first request, these blogs make their second request of asking for emails.

(This technique is also called the foot-in-the-door marketing technique where marketers ask for a small favor and then ask for a second, bigger favor after the prospect obliges to the first one.)

To try a multi-step optin form, you can create a quiz that is specific to your content.

If we go back to the educational publication example from the first point, we could create a quiz called, “Are you eligible to apply to the X University?” where the X university is the university about which a reader (from the student segment) is reading on the site.

Like, if a student is reading an article about, say, an imaginary Hummingbird University, we would offer a quiz about the Hummingbird University’s eligibility criteria.

Some of the questions could look like:

  • What’s your percentage?
  • Aggregate?
  • Year of passing?

Maybe 2 or 3 more…

After the student takes the quiz, we would ask them to share their email to get the result.

Needless to say, this quiz will work only for the student audience.

For the other segment (the educator segment), we could come up with something more personalized – like, maybe a poll asking the readers if a particular education bill under consideration should be passed or not. And then, again, to know the results, we’d ask the readers to give their emails.

3. Use the reader’s choice popup (Or give the choice to “NOT SUBSCRIBE”)

The most common list building mistake that I see blogs make is to give subscribers just one choice: the choice to subscribe.

The problem with a single choice optin form is that when users don’t want to subscribe, they can simply shut down the popup with a single click. That’s it.

Now contrast this situation with one in which the subscribers have to think before rejecting an opt-in offer, i.e., consider putting the subscribers in a situation in which they have to choose between opting in and opting out.

Copy Hackers, a site about copywriting tips, uses a two-choice opt-in form to pitch their freebie. Since March 2015, 4 in 5 opt-ins on Copy Hackers have been happening from the two-choice opt-in form implemented on their site.

Multi-choice opt-in forms are nothing but multi-step opt-in forms where you first get the user to commit to subscribing and then ask for the email.

To give you an example, let’s go back to our educational publication. Suppose we had to try the two-choice opt-in form to collect emails from students interested in the Hummingbird University.

So for our opt-in copy, we could write something like:


Hand-hold me to my dream university


I don’t need help — I’d rather struggle and find my way


And then we would use a tool like Digioh that comes with customizable two-choice option form templates to design our lightbox. Here’s a lightbox I designed in under two minutes using an editable template:

4. Create personalized opt-in offers for your best referrals

Some referring sites send consistent traffic. Creating exclusive opt-in offers for these highly targeted visitor streams is a great way to leverage such traffic.

For our hypothetical educational publication, if we had a friend site that published a review of our magazine and sent consistent traffic to our site, we would create a customized offer for the inbound referral traffic.

We could offer the referred visitors a gift card or some discount on the magazine subscription. Such an offer would be very relevant to a visitor because the visitor has just come to the site reading a highly positive review.

5. Estimate the visitor’s engagement level before showing the opt-in form

Sometimes an opt-in offer gets ignored because it shows up too soon. Think of the times when you reach a site through a Google search and the moment you land on it, you’re requested to signup.

Most likely, you’ll turn down the opt-in offer.

The problem with such early signup forms is that they don’t give the readers a chance to get a feel of the content – and so they get ignored.

Perhaps if you were shown the opt-in offer after you went through half of the post or after you spent a few seconds scanning through it, you’d respond differently to it – perhaps you’d subscribe.

The time spent by a reader on a page indicates the reader’s engagement level. If a reader spends a few seconds, you can be sure that the reader finds the content engaging.

A tool like Digioh can help you create lightboxes that show up only when a reader shows interest in an article and stays on it for at least a few seconds.

Digioh also lets you fire lightboxes based on your readers’ engagement levels by looking at their scrolling patterns. So if a reader scrolls through a certain preset section, the reader will be shown an opt-in popup.

The following screenshot shows the settings of a lightbox (see Field 2 – Total seconds on page) that gets triggered after a reader stays for 30 seconds on a page.

6. Target using cookie data

A visitor’s cookie data can determine if the visitor is already a subscriber. This knowledge is helpful because it helps push the already-subscribed visitors further down the sales funnel by asking for other meaningful information from them.

For example, if you know a particular visitor to be a subscriber, you’ll definitely not want to waste their visit by showing the “Join our newsletter” lightbox.

Instead, you could use this visit to ask for more personal details like the visitor’s occupation, address and more. You could do so easily by offering the visitor a discount coupon for some product or by offering an incentive like a gift card.

Overdrive, another happy Digioh user leverages the cookie data collected by Digioh to target subscribers and non-subscribers with different offers. Paul from Overdrive says that personalizing the subscriber segment with cross-selling offers has produced excellent results:

“Right now, we are primarily segmenting non-subscriber visitors to our website so that we can target them for newsletter and magazine subscriptions. We have also run a limited amount of promotions to current subscribers that cross-sell paid products. The conversion rates have been excellent.”

They also target their existing subscribers with offers to subscribe to their print subscription.

If we apply this tactic to our educational publication example, we won’t show a generic signup form to our subscribers (because they’re already subscribed to our site).

Instead, we will show them signup offers for specific universities – like in our instance, we’d build a special segment of the people interested in updates from the Hummingbird University.

And the next time that we publish content about this university, we’ll email just this segment. This way, the readers will find the content relevant and won’t unsubscribe.

7. Don’t show interstitial ads and email capture lightboxes together

For many publisher sites, the main revenue source is ads. It’s common to see a niche publisher site show 10s of banner ads on each page. Interstitial ads are also common (interstitial ads are the ones that show up as lightboxes and often cover the entire screen).

If you show both ads and lightboxes, show just one of the two at one time. That is, when a user is on your page, show the ad OR the email optin form in the lightbox. Don’t try to cram both the ad and the optin offer at the same time.

With a solution like Digioh, you can integrate your optin lightboxes right into your Ad Server. This allows you to suppress an email optin form when an ad is about to fire. So you get both – ad impressions as well as targeted email optin form lightboxes.

8. Make sure your lightbox is fully loaded before showing up

Most publisher sites are content-heavy and so they take many seconds to load. If you run a slow website, your lightboxes will suffer too. Instead of getting loaded instantaneously, your lightbox might show up as a framework (without the elements). It might be a few seconds before its elements start showing up.

As a result, your audience will only see the lightbox without its content, which is enough to prompt them to shut down your lightbox.

So make sure that your ligthbox pre-loads text, images, and other form elements before showing up. So that when it does show up, your users see the exact signup offer that you’ve planned for them to see.

When your lightbox doesn’t load fully before showing up, here’s how it can look as the elements get loaded one by one:

9. Test different versions

The best way to know what works is to test. Without testing, you’ve no way to tell if a particular freebie works better for your readers than the others. Or if simple lightboxes produce better results than multi-step forms.

The best approach to testing is to first optimize the larger picture and then finetune for better results.

Like, for the educational publication example we were discussing earlier, we’d first start by testing different kinds of optin forms and triggering conditions:

  • Types of lightboxes – simple newsletter signup lightboxes / multi-step optin forms / multi-choice forms
  • Trigger settings – like setting the lightbox to show up after 30 seconds of page loading or after the visitor has scrolled through some content
  • Targeting – choosing to show the lightbox only on specific page containing specific keywords or only to visitors referred by a particular domain

Suppose our tests show that offers with freebies and targeting work the best, then we could experiment with different types of freebies:

  • A university evaluation worksheet
  • A university selection process pdf

and more…

Finally, we’d focus on the more minute elements in the form:

  • Copy
  • Template
  • Design
  • Button

When you choose a tool for collecting emails, go for one that lets you test different versions. Decisive A/B testing will help you earn many more emails using the same efforts and during the same time.

10. Target mobile users with mobile-friendly lightboxes

Many people assume that a lightbox on a mobile may not be so necessary or wouldn’t extend a great user experience. This assumption can prove costly because more and more people are using mobiles over desktops to search and read content.

We’ve hit an inflection point where more Google searches are taking place in mobile than desktop in 10 countries, including US and Japan.” — Jerry Dischler, Vice President of Product Management for AdWords

Overdrive sure used this insight and optimized their lightboxes for the smartphones – when they realized that their readers were reading their content on mobiles, they moved to Digioh and started showing mobile-friendly lightboxes. Till date, 68% of signups for Overdrive have happened on mobile devices.

This might be true for your readers too. If you login to your Google Analytics account, you’ll be able to see how your mobile traffic looks like. If a considerable amount comes from mobile devices, you should show mobile-friendly lightboxes.


Collecting emails isn’t too hard – but it can be if you offer the same opt-in offer to all your visitors, show your opt-in forms too early, stay too afraid to show opt-in forms on mobiles, or refuse to try different tactics. Break free from these practices and try some of the above tips.

The results might surprise you!

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